In one of my grammar books, there are two examples how to use "not until" and "only" in a sentence:

  1. Not until the next day did I hear that I had got the job.

  2. Only at the end of the interview did I think I had a chance of getting the job.

But there is also a note that with "not" and "only", you have to be careful about which verb to invert with the following examples:

  1. Not until I had finished my homework was I allowed to go out.

  2. Only when I had finished my homework was I allowed to go out.

In such a case, why in the examples 1 and 2 the first verb phrase (did I hear, did I think) is inverted and not the second one (I had got the job, I had a chance)?

  • 2
    In #3 and #4, "until I had finished" is syntactically the same as "until the next day" (or just "until then") in terms of how that part relates to the entire sentence containing that "reference to a point in time". Any subject/verb inversion only applies to the main clause (did I hear, did I think, was I allowed). Mar 28 at 17:54
  • 3
    Compare Only now s/he has read the comment IS ANIA able to understand this. Where without "only", there is no inversion: Now s/he has read the comment, ANIA IS able to understand this. Mar 28 at 17:59
  • 2
    In these examples, it's the main clause that contains the inversion.
    – Billy Kerr
    Mar 29 at 1:45

1 Answer 1


I add to what @FumbleFingers and @Billy Kerr said. Any subject-auxiliary inversion applies only to the main clause.

British Council has similar examples in its Only + time expression section:

Only when they refilled my glass did I realise it was broken.

Only later did they discover they hadn't been told the truth.

Inversion applies only to the main clause; the subordinate declarative content clauses are not inverted.

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